Planning for life post Brexit – wot Planning?

If I had £1 for every occasion in the last few months I’d heard a politician or commentator ask ‘so what ARE the plans for a post-Brexit economy?’ I reckon I’d be a rich woman. And only yesterday this same anguished question is being asked about life post the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Surely there are brains much bigger than my own who should have been giving some thought to a number of possible future scenarios, rather than just one – however unpalatable other outcomes might be? And yet, as history shows us, time and time again, for whatever reason we just don’t learn lessons from the past and apply them to present and future possibilities. Whilst I am not in a position to influence our next and former Prime Ministers, maybe, just maybe, there’s something a&dc’s clients can learn from all this for the businesses that we and they run.

Surely the missing link is the practice of scenario planning? Looking ahead to what could be in ten, twenty years’ time has perhaps more traditionally been seen as the arena of fortune tellers and crystal ball gazers – and it could be argued more appropriately, since in 2006 how accurately could we have forecast the world of today? Instead, in our experience where organisations invest their energies is on the more immediate future – the next year, 2 years – maybe 5 at a pinch. In this world, logical, linear and rational thought is king; whereas scenario planning demands divergent thinking – creativity, visualisation and intuition as we imagine not just one possible future, but several.

Please don’t think I’m suggesting that there’s no longer a place for rational strategic planning. a&dc’s ongoing research into the kinds of behaviours critical for thriving in this VUCA[1] world – in common with just about any other leadership framework you might refer to – underlines the critical importance to leaders of being able to harness their own and others’ ’grey matter.’ In a VUCA world there are not enough rules to cover every scenario. We need to develop our own thinking capacities to take into account lots of complex factors, and think ahead to visualise different possible positions. Within our leadership model this is what we call Intellect.

However, no matter how massive the sum total of collective organisational and personal Intellect, this alone won’t provide the answers we need – it must be well supported by four other critical behaviours – Learning, Values, Emotions and Drive; thereby forming the basis of a&dc’s LIVED Leadership Model.

Like Intellect, Emotions and Drive are commonly identified as key qualities for leaders and managers at all levels of the Leadership Pipeline and across all sectors. Never has it been more important to recognise and manage our own and others’ emotions and to be capable of building effective networks and relationships. If we can’t motivate ourselves and others to deliver great performance and build resilient teams and organisations, what hope is there?

The more we work with our clients to embed LIVED as the foundation of our clients’ people strategies, the more evident the robustness of the model becomes. At the heart of LIVED is V – the Values dimension. Could there be a more critical time to cling onto the ‘true north’ that is our personal and organisational values and to role-model authentic leadership? We often use the analogy of a hand to illustrate the 5 LIVED dimensions, in which  the  thumb is Learning, as it is the key digit without which the hand is next to useless.  Whilst no one would argue that as leaders Learning isn’t vital – no matter how wide, deep or extensive our knowledge and experience – how many of us, how many of our organisations can truly put our hands on our hearts and declare that we make enough time – every day – and complete the learning cycle[2] so that our next experiences benefit from that learning?

So will we ever learn lessons from what is past? Our marking of the centenary of the Great War is but one example that suggests maybe not. In his book, The Key Capabilities of Adaptive Firms, Professor John Sullivan describes the importance to all businesses of identifying events that signal a problem or opportunity just before they occur, of planning for every growth mode; creating plans and programmes that are scalable and capable of simultaneously moving in multiple directions, quickly reversing direction by as much as 180 degrees, when environmental factors or competitors unexpectedly shift – as surely they will! However limited our own sphere of influence, let’s apply the learning from the present situation and look afresh at techniques like scenario planning for possible worlds of 2026 and beyond. So if this is the challenge and a possible way ahead, what’s stopping you?

[1] Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity – the term VUCA was originally coined by the US military, but is now widely in use across businesses to describe the world in which businesses need to live in and plan for.

[2] David Kolb’s research evidenced that effective learning only really happens when we complete a cycle that addresses the ‘what’, ‘so what’ and ‘now what’ questions arising from any kind of learning experience.

Author: Karen West

Brexit highlights the reality of the VUCA world, so what does this mean for our leaders?

The decision taken by the British electorate on June 23rd has sent shock waves around the world and caused dismay and alarm within the UK, but should it have done so?

The markets are reacting in a very jittery fashion as they dislike uncertainty, always favouring stability, but this reflects the fact that they and far too many people are unfamiliar with the concept of VUCA. This term which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, was coined by the US military in the early 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall signalling the end of the Cold War. In attempting to identify the sources of future potential conflicts they began to appreciate that the world we live in today is highly unpredictable and is epitomised by this term VUCA.

Volatility describes a world of fast-paced change, which is accelerating ever faster, with no signs of it ever slowing down; Uncertainty refers to the fact that there is a heightened level of unpredictability, which makes forecasting events with any confidence is becoming increasingly difficult; Complexity describes a world which is so interconnected now that multiple factors can influence events in ways that it is difficult to anticipate; Ambiguity highlights the fact that when events occur, it is often difficult to understand why they did. All of this is of course unsettling, unless one recognises as some have started to do, that this VUCA state is permanent, it isn’t going to go away and some have labelled it as ‘the new normal’.

Indeed one of the most commonly stated mantras of those familiar with VUCA is:

“The only certainty is uncertainty!”

If we accept this statement, then we need to plan accordingly and this means that organisations of all kinds, including Governments, need to have leaders who can cope effectively in this most challenging environment. This means leaders who:

  • Can see beyond the fog of ambiguity and who can maintain a clear sense of direction/purpose in order to pursue the vision and keep others focused.
  • Are comfortable being uncomfortable and who understand their environment and themselves and therefore remain calm and provide reassurance to all around them when things get confusing.
  • Can manage complexity by providing clarity and communicating clearly what needs to be achieved, not how. General George Patton said: ‘Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity’.
  • Can respond quickly and adapt to changing circumstances such as market demands, fluctuating share prices, etc., by adopting an agile approach, whilst staying focused on the direction and then communicating early and regularly and thereby empowering their followers.

In the context of Brexit, this means we need leaders who can embrace change, manage it and not be frightened of it, as we are now in a world of constant, accelerating change. In particular, the characteristics given above suggest that we need highly agile leaders who can adjust their approach to different circumstances in order to remain effective. The quality that this requires more than any other is the ability to be a quick and constant learner, who can readily draw upon their experiences to define an appropriate vision and a course of action to get there, review progress on route, and make necessary course corrections to navigate us to our destination. Only with such leadership, can we be confident of safely reaching our destination!

Join us for a free webinar on Thursday 22nd September to find out more about VUCA and leadership – reserve your seat now >>

Author: Nigel Povah